Friday, December 31, 2010


We stand at the end of another year—a little older, possibly a bit wiser, somewhat weary, but filled with the satisfaction of having at least completed the trail—and I would hope a smidgen excited by the unknown road just ahead. It's also natural that we like to pause here, taking stock of where we've been, wondering about where we're going.

Like all years, the one to the rear had its ups and down. While there were moments—even days—I'd rather not repeat, on the whole it was a very good year. True, my bank account didn't improve. Neither can I say I feel younger or stronger—and every mirror I pass reminds me I'm sure not getting better looking. Nope, the physical me is definitely losing the battle—but I'm holding as tough as I can and I'd like to think I'm not giving up too much ground. 

Moreover, when considered overall, there's no doubt my blessings far outweighed my hardships. I find increasing pleasure and satisfaction in the simple things. I know both peace and joy. There is always beauty and wonder to be savored, mystery, adventure…love.

What of tomorrow, and the next 364 days beyond? I have no idea—well, I have an idea, but don't know whether it will prove accurate. Life does not come with guarantees, and I make no prescient claims. No man can insure his own tomorrow, let alone the tomorrow of others. Only God has that insight, and so I place my life and future in His hands.

One of my great delights this past year has been the opportunity to share words and photos with all of you via this blog. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate each and every reader and comment. You are both my guests and my friends, and I'm continually humbled by the fact that in this busy world, you choose to spend part of your precious time with me here on the riverbank. From the bottom of my heart—THANK YOU!

Now—grab your walking stick, and put an extra snack or two in your pack…there's a brand new year-long trail to follow beyond tomorrow's dawn. HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


This starling looks about like I feel—shaky of stance, overfluffed, prone to the shivers,
and about an inch away from a bad attitude.

It's good to have goals—a fellow needs something he can work towards, dream about, hope to accomplish. For the past few days, my goal has been to sit before this computer and fire off a victory post…MAN TRIUMPHS OVER MICROBES!  

Well, here I am, though I gotta tell you, those were some dandy pathogens. Super Bugs if ever I encountered one. We whipped and whumped, gouged eyes, bit ears, and fought one another tooth and nail, from Christmas Eve until this very afternoon—but the battle wasn't so much won as it was the participants on both sides just plumb wore out and agreed to call it a draw. 

I finally made it down the hall to my writing room. Even stuck my head outside earlier. And it's been a whole quarter-hour since my last coughing fit. So I wanted to use this new-found burst of strength to report in…before I toodle off to actually examine a number of Christmas presents I barely managed to get out of their wrapping paper Saturday. I will write more tomorrow…

Saturday, December 25, 2010


To my wonderful readers of Riverdaze—
I hope you enjoy your time here 
as much as I enjoy your visits and comments.
I consider you, each and every one,
not only friends, but an extended family.
And I appreciate you all very much.
Remember, being family,
no need to wait for an invitation 
to drop by the riverbank, 
you're always welcome! 

 From Myladylove, Moon the Dog, and
the Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself…

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Another gray sky and the lightest of snow flurries today. Not too cold, though.

Yesterday's BIG DAY south of town encompassed our final gift shopping push during the morning, a nice lunch, the successful installation of a permanent cap for Myladlove's tooth in the afternoon, followed by a bit more gift shopping to pick up a few extra items. 

Our adventure began as we were heading home. Myladyove thought she'd like to have a cappuccino to sip during the drive. 

"How about a peppermint milkshake instead? I suggested. 

Myladylove agreed that sounded even better. I took a route that would pass by a dairy store before we hopped onto the Interstate. Along the way we stopped to fill the Jeep's tank with gas. Then I started to pull out from the gas station—WHOA! NO BRAKES! The brake pedal went straight to the floor. 

Using the handbrake and a lot of care, I managed to get us into a big parking lot across the street. Now what? It was after 7:00 p.m., dark, cold, and we were twenty-some miles from home in a broken down vehicle filled with Christmas packages.

Myladylove has always been employed in banking or financial sales, and in recent years has served as a financial officer for an auto retailer who owns about a dozen dealerships in the area. She wanted the mechanics at the store where she works to do the repairs. That was a dozen miles farther north than our cottage—though it was obvious, one way or the other, the Jeep had to go to a garage. I felt I could possibly make it that far using the handbrake, but no matter which route I chose, I'd have to pass through most of the downtown…I'd have to be really careful.

I decided I at least needed a rear guard for such a journey—someone to add an extra layer of rearward protection, and also to serve as an escape hatch should the undertaking prove too perilous and we had to park the Jeep and call a tow truck. Too, there was the matter of getting home from the garage after we dropped the car off. I called fellow-father-in-law Rich (his son, my daughter) who answered straightaway and agreed without hesitation to do whatever necessary to help work things out and see us safely home. This even though Rich lives in a small town several miles south of where we now sat stranded, and the opposite direction from where we needed to go. 

How do you put a value on such things? Friends are simply priceless.

About the time Rich arrived to act as escort, Myladylove decided to call one of her company's vice presidents to say we might drop the Jeep off at one the other network dealerships should we decide we couldn't make it to her home store. 

"Why don't you take it to Recon?" the fellow asked, referring to the big facility where all used vehicles the company takes in, though trade-ins at it's new-car dealerships, are first  checked,  and put in tip-top mechanical shape before being offered for sale. The best part was that this Recon operation was only a couple of miles away, down a road with few lights or stop signs, and not all that much traffic late on a weeknight. "You'll need a car to get home in, right?" the V.P. added. "I'll call and they'll have a one waiting, plus I'll tell them to look at your Jeep first thing in the morning—and repair it as soon as they can. Keep the loaner until yours gets fixed."

And so we made the much shorter driver, Rich following. There Myladylove found a nearly new Hyundai Santa Fe waiting. We loaded our bags into the borrowed vehicle, thanked Rich profusely, and set out home.

Call it providence or luck, if you will—but I believe it was God's protection. As it turns out, a brake line had ruptured, apparently when I stopped at the gas station's pump. It's almost too scary to contemplate what could have happened if we'd have been on the Interstate, zipping along at 70 mph…or if Myladylove had been driving the icy backroads to work this morning. 

What could have ended in tragedy became barely an inconvenience. I'm so thankful for our safety, and grateful for those acts of friendship and genuine Christmas spirit so warmly extended.

Monday, December 20, 2010


A pair of cardinals pause before breakfasting.
The morning is overcast, the dimly-lit sky filled with snow—flakes so fine the air seems hazy. The river is dark, somber, moving quietly along. A pair of cardinals are sitting on a limb near the cottage door, glowing bright against the gloomy background. 

Yesterday was Myladylove's birthday and also our anniversary. We celebrated the former last night, at a favorite Italian restaurant south of town, joined by my daughter and son-in-law, and fellow-father-in-law. Good food, good company, and I daresay a good time had by all; the best way to tick off another year's mile-marker. Myladylove and I had enjoyed our anniversary dinner the night before, at a Mexican eatery not far from the cottage. Unlike birthdays, years shared in love are like dividends paid from a treasure whose value increases annually.

Here's a newsflash: the Christmas tree is now decorated…well, almost. I still have a handful of ornaments to put on later today, between writing and zapping off a column, plus finishing a couple of other chores. But the bulk—which must number at least a couple hundred and are about evenly divided between various speciality decorations and standard glass balls—have been hung. The only question remaining is whether or not to add a few packets of those silver mylar "icicles." My mother never thought a Christmas tree looked finished without shimmering strands of icicles, along with the lights, ornaments, and garland. But they're time-consuming and messy to apply correctly (no, you don't just stand back and sling gobs at the tree) and time-consuming and messy to remove. And of course Moon the dog always eats a few, which does tend to brighten up her morning walks. Nevertheless, I agree with Mom that the added sparkle is worth the time and mess—so providing there are a few packets among the tubs of decorations, I suppose I'll add them to the tree along with the remaining ornaments.

Tomorrow morning, at 8:00 a.m. sharp, Myladylove has to be in the dentist's office for what is hoped will be the final installment to last week's tooth cap fiasco. Then it's a concerted push to finish our Christmas shopping, which at this point now seems possible. Who wudda thunk? And if we're really on a roll, we'll make it home in time for a fireside dinner, carols on CDs, and a leisurely hour or two in which to admire the fully-decorated tree!

Friday, December 17, 2010


Earth and sky are identical whites, separated only by gray-brown trees and the river's dark ribbon. The subdued light is flat and even, without shadows, making it difficult to follow the line of tracks where Moon the Dog walked during her morning reconnoiter. Snow is sifting down, sometimes just a dusting, as if an upstairs baker were readying a few loaves of seasonal bread for the oven; yet occasionally the small flakes simply pour from the white sky, so thick through the trees that it is almost impossible to see the river's opposite shore.  

A  male downy woodpecker is picking and poking its way up the big box elder near the front of the cottage. I hope its effort pays off in tasty bugs. The old tree can use all the help it can get with insect control.  

There's a Carolina wren in the feeder just beyond my deskside window…perky, inquisitive, pausing every so often in its seed munching to peer through the glass at me—the inspected inspecting the inspector. I adore wrens, especially this one with the southern affiliation and the big voice. They can be fierce sprites, holding their ground against birds twice their size with threatening pokes from slender, downturned beaks. Even the aggressive red-bellied woodpeckers pay them heed. I think the Carolina's plumage of warm browns and tans is matchless in its rich understatement.

Far downstream, a couple of herons stand fifty feet apart on the ice shelf. Slate-blue birds above jade-green water. The falling snow has apparently made them more tolerant of what would normally be viewed as mutual encroachment on fishing rights and territory—though perhaps they're just conserving energy during the cold weather.

Providing I can coax my pickup up the icy hill at the top of the drive, I intend to take another stab at Christmas shopping, plus I want to stop by the grocery for a few things, including eggs for an evening pitcher of nog. Should the first attempts prove futile, I'll shovel a bit and put down salt—or whatever the stuff is—and give it a couple of hours to melt things for a bite of traction on the gravel underneath. 

Myladylove has apparently taken my cell phone to work. At least several searches throughout the house have failed to locate the missing device. The last time I used it was early this morning. I remember placing it on the kitchen counter afterwards. They're having a holiday carry-in lunch today where Myladylove works. I'd made a big dish of Spicy Southwest Rice (baked brown rice, chicken stock, tiny slices of barbecued pork, onions, garlic, corn, tomatoes, diced jalapenos, oregano, chili powder, ground cayenne pepper and cumin) to take in. Myladylove was running late and in a rush. As our phones are identical, she likely grabbed my phone and stuck it in her jacket. Since we don't have a house phone, I can't call and ask, or hear a report on my rice dish's popularity until this evening.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The riffle, looking across from the cottage. Notice how the mist has frosted the small bushes.

This morning, after an exordium of pitiful moans and groans due to a decrepit body apparently in all-out revolt, I finally dragged my carcass from bed at 6:30 a.m. Whereupon, in a posture resembling that of Quasimodo, I gimped into the great room to start the coffeemaker. The thermometer outside the window read a measly 4˚F—which for you Celsius folks is -15.55˚. Cold by anyone's scale. 

Snow on bankside hackberries. 
Twenty minutes later I had breakfast ready and called Myladylove to arise and dine—an invitation which had to be repeated several times at increasing volume, seeing as how she was buried like a hibernating woodchuck under many layers of blankets. Eventually, sharp mutterings—muffled, but doubtless uncharitable—emanated from beneath the stack of covers. I understood their cause, though I confess an inability to suppress a smirking moment of fiendish satisfaction when her subsequent efforts to get up prompted a series of poignant wails and whimpers. Misery does love company.

The view upstream…
The reason for our shared wretchedness came from what we'd put ourselves through the day before—though not all of yesterday's ordeal was directly our fault. 

The day began with Myladylove's 8:00 a.m. dentist appointment to have the permanent cap on a cracked molar installed. The appointment's early hour necessitated leaving the cottage at 7:15 a.m. since the tooth fixer's shop is several miles beyond the far side of town. This, of course, necessitated getting  up at an hour which even owls and early risers would deem the dead of night. We did so…dutifully, though not cheerfully. 

A graceful curve of ice and water, while warm sunlight reflects off  sycamores.
At the dental office, after two hours of fiddling, it was decided the intended permanent cap did not meet our perfectionist dentist's standards. Another temporary was made and installed. At which point Myladylove—now frazzled of nerves and numb of mouth, popping Tylenol like a squirrel snarfs peanuts, whipped out the Christmas gift list and we set off to fulfill our shopping plans. This side of town boasts multiple sprawling indoor malls, dozens of strip malls, and about a gazillion retail establishments—offering a selection of merchandise limited only by physical endurance and credit limit. 

Ice, water, and frozen riffle stones, colored by the sunrise.
I can't tell you the details of what we didn't find, seeing as how unauthorized, prying eyes might read this field report. Let's just say that an astonishing percentage of items on our list were not to be found on the shelves. At 2:00 p.m. we broke for lunch. About three-quarters of the way through our meal, Myladylove said "Uh-oh," and deposited her new temporary tooth cap in her palm. 

"Call the dentist, " I said. "At least we're still on his side of town."

The dentist said he'd see her at 5:00 p.m. We hadn't meant to stay out that long, but then we hadn't figured on such unsuccessful gift shopping…or a temporary temporary. Now we had more time to shop. Oh, boy!

Looking downstream at a lot of slush.
A dozen additional stores gained us no ground whatsoever on our gift list. Exhaustion began taking its toll. On the off chance of Myladylove's getting in before the scheduled time, we headed to the dentist's early. She went inside, I remained in the car, engine and heater off, radio on, watching the last of the day's light turn orange and fade into the west. After the first hour of waiting, a weather station reported 10˚F; I estimated it was possibly 11˚F inside the Jeep, then snuggled deeper into my L.L. Bean Expedition Parka while thanking every goose for even a single contributed feather. Twenty minutes later, Myladylove, sporting a new temporary—one presumably now thoroughly glued in place—reappeared. "Let's hit a few more stores on the way home," she said. 

Had the dentist given her some "happy pill" version of Tylenol? If so where were mine?

We arrived back at the cottage just this side of 9:00 p.m. Moon the Dog was glad to see us—and even more glad to dash for the side yard. I could hear her relieved sigh all the way from the back door. I made hot cocoa and warmed bowls of Sunday's soup. We collapsed onto the couch, listened to a CD of carols while finishing our drinks…then staggered off to bed.
Downstream sycamores lit by the rising sun.

I shot these photos of the river this morning, soon after Myladylove managed to get herself off to work. I thought the least I could do was stagger around the yard awhile, camera in hand. Double-click if you want to see any shots bigger.

Monday, December 13, 2010


A pair of house finches wait their turn at the feeder.
We had a great little snowstorm yesterday. While the actual amount of snow that fell only amounted to about three inches, at times it was blowing around so thick and furious you'd have sworn you were in the 
midst of an arctic blizzard. Absolutely delightful!
Just part of the mixed feeder gang.
The birds, of course, responded to the storm by ganging to the feeders and scattered corn in droves, noisily gorging themselves with the table manners of a herd of semi-starved teenagers scarfing up free pizzas. The first thing I did in the morning was to fill each seed basket to the brim, put out new blocks of suet, and toss scoops of cracked corn under the box elder, atop various stumps and rocks, along the walk, with even a bit on the windowsill by the dining table for the Carolina wren who likes to nibble while peering inside, as if wondering about that big interior space on the other side of the glass. No one goes unfed on the riverbank!    

A redbird hunkers in a riverbank hackberry.
After breakfast Myladylove and I played hooky from church and headed to the tree farm to cut our Christmas tree. We're late this year by at least a week; we had every intention of getting it up and decorated the weekend after Thanksgiving. Alas, every free day recently has been allotted to dental and doctor visits, my recent outpatient procedure, or some other schedule-wrecking necessity.

Frankly, we're now both glad it worked out this way because yesterday's storm was the perfect time to go find a tree.The swirling, blowing snow, which blotted out the horizon in every direction, rendered the world beautiful beyond description. We took the long way to the tree farm, along little country roads which zigged and zagged through strips of woods, along jump-across brooks, over old iron bridges, and past barns and fields and meadows which could have occupied me photographically for months—each scene more magical than the next.

A flicker forages amid the snowstorm.
In fact, if we hadn't been on our Christmas tree mission, we'd have spent the entire day wandering those lovely rural byways along the western edge of Ohio, listening to carols on the radio—perhaps angling a bit into eastern Indiana to take in the snowfall's beauty amid a Hoosier light. There'd doubtless have been a stop in some mom-and-pop café for a burger, a mug of coffee, and—if luck was with us—a slice of gooseberry pie. Then, as twilight set in and night swiftly claimed the land, we'd have headed home through those little villages with the interesting names—Palestine, North Star, Savona, Eldorado, Ithaca, Winchester, West Sonora—taking time to admire the holiday decorations and lights, listening to the ancient music of the season, while a silver glow from the heavens above gleamed off the white blanket of new-fallen snow.

Friday, December 10, 2010


We all know that life in the wild isn't quite so cutesy sanitized as many of those T.V. nature shows would have you believe. Reality is harsh, raw…and often colored a bloody crimson. "Red in tooth and claw," was how Tennyson put it. Every living thing eats to survive. And sometimes that space between eating and being eaten, the juncture between life and death, is measured by a fraction of a second. 

Late yesterday, more than an hour after the sun had disappeared over the western horizon, in the near-darkness of the hurried winter twilight, something thumped against my deskside window…which, as I looked up, was immediately followed by a much louder thump. 

Whump WHUMP! 

I jerked in startled reaction, even as I watched the bigger bird pin the smaller bird to the glass. I also saw in that brief instant that the big bird was some type of small hawk, and the prey was the pretty male cardinal which had been busily feeding on sunflower seeds from the basket hanging under the eave. 

Cardinals are always one of the first birds to come to the feeders in the morning, often arriving while dawn is only a faint eastern glow, and one of the last to leave in the evening, regularly sticking around until they're only silhouettes in the waning dusk. This scarlet-feathered fellow had lingered a moment too long.

The hawk—which I recognized by its small size and proportionately diminutive head shape as a sharp-shinned—flew over to the wooden fence along the yard's side boundary, a hundred feet away, carrying the limp cardinal tucked underneath, clutched securely by sharp talons. After landing atop the fence the sharpie sat for a couple of minutes, as they usually do, making sure its soon-to-be meal was dead. Then it began quickly plucking the redbird—yanking out gobs of bright feathers which were dropped over both sides of the fence. I couldn't have de-feathered that cardinal any quicker or better myself.

Plucking completed, the sharp-shinned polished off its warm supper, making short work of what was really a rather large meal. Then the hawk flew off across the river. The darkness was by then so complete that if it hadn't been for the bird's lighter underwings and a band of white at the tip of the tail, I wouldn't have been able to track its flight.

[Photographic/bird notes: I apologize for an admittedly poor image. When I shot this—which is only a very small portion of the frame—it was not nearly so bright out as the picture appears. In fact it was too dark to read the headlines on a newspaper. I had the camera's ISO cranked to the maximum. The 200mm lens (a 300mm since I'm shooting digital) was braced against the window glass so I could handhold at 1/30th of a second. And once I'd uploaded the image to iPhoto, I did all I could to brighten, sharpen, and add contrast. It actually came out better than I expected. And for you birders who may be looking at what seems to be a more rounded tail, and thus thinking it's a Cooper's rather than a sharp-shinned, know that it's just a quirk of this particular frame; others do show the more squared-off shape. I have Cooper's visiting regularly, and not only was this bird much smaller, but the key differences were also visible. I'm pretty sure I have it right…but I'm open to debate.]  

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It's a lovely day here along the riverbank—the sky a bright jay blue, and sunlight sparkling like diamonds off the snow. Yet even though stalactite icicles along the eaves are dripping steadily, it's still cold out, only 18˚F according to the thermometer on the wall beyond my deskside window. 

When I stepped out with Moon the Dog after breakfast this morning, it was an even colder 10˚F…which to my way of thinking is a bit much for what is officially still autumn rather than winter. I noticed the river was beginning to sheath itself with ice. For the past few days, there has been a narrow ice shelf along many portions of both banks, but this is the first time I've seen ice creeping into the middle of the slower pools. It will doubtless take a few more days and nights of below-freezing cold to close the gap; right now, the mid-current areas are mostly slush. A precursor, perhaps, of a possible early and colder-than-normal winter. Time will tell…

Time will also tell the outcome of yesterday's colonoscopy, though there's no reason at the moment to expect anything other than a benign report from the one polyp that was removed and sent off for lab evaluation. The procedure itself almost didn't happen. I'd spent a pretty awful night beforehand, getting up and down, restless, cold, shivering, unable to sleep more than a few minutes at a time. I wasn't worried about the test; I simply couldn't seem to get warm—possibly due the day's diet of a clear liquids only. I finally got up for good at 5:00 a.m. and fixed myself a big, steaming mug of black coffee. At 6:00 a.m. I began drinking the half-gallon of Gatorade/Miralax mix, which immediately began making me nauseated, though I got the stuff down and kept it there in the prescribed two hours.

However, I wasn't feeling much better by the time I checked in at the hospital at 12:30 for my 1:30 p.m. procedure. Due to some underlying health issues, plus the fact that my blood pressure was on the high side from the sodium in the prep mix, the gastric surgeon considered scrapping the procedure because of possible risks from the anesthesia. I suggested we do the procedure without using anesthesia, which I knew is often the protocol in other countries. The surgeon considered and agreed—whereupon they wheeled me in and things proceeded without a hitch. No pain, I got to watch on the monitor, and no post-anesthesia recovery time. 

Afterwards, Myladylove and I stopped by the grocery on the way home, and once here, I cooked us a late lunch while she gathered wood and built a nice fire on the hearth. Moon the Dog wagged profusely, barked at squirrels, and begged for handouts. Then—fed, warmed, and relaxed, Moon and I sacked out on the couch, while Myladylove changed CDs as needed and worked on her beadmaking. 

That's my report…perhaps a bit too detailed. What I really want to say again is very how much I appreciated each and every one of your well-wishes and prayers. Thank you so much for such genuine concern. It truly meant a lot.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Twilight is stealing along the river. There's a flush of slamon-pink to the west, casting a warming hue to the snow cover that fell Saturday. It's the first sky color I've seen all day. According to the almanack the sun set an hour ago, though I'll have to take their word on the matter. From my riverbank perspective, today was heavily overcast—a gray day, dimly lit. Even at midday, the wane light barely brightened…and then only by a few degrees. I certainly didn't expect a colorful finale.

Today has also been cold and filled with flurries which often came blowing in horizontally from the northwest. It was 16˚F when I stepped outside a few minutes ago for a long look upstream. A good evening for a hearthfire.

As is always the case, the blowing snow had droves of birds congregating noisily around the feeders. At one point I counted seventeen different species—mostly the usual crowd, though I did have a flicker, a crow, and what I think must have been an orange-varient house finch. I managed a quick shot of this latter bird, when it posed, fluffed up, on the back of my deck rocking chair. Take a look and tell me if I'm wrong.

Tomorrow afternoon I have to go into the hospital for a routine screening colonoscopy—an outpatient procedure that, barring complications, takes a couple of hours. One of the rewards of aging. I'm not exactly looking forward to it…but it's not all that big a deal and can certainly save your life. What I am looking forward to, after a day and a half on a clear liquids diet, is real food. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Two things happened today…sometime between midnight and breakfast time, the river rose a couple of feet, adding to the two-or-so feet of slow rise we've experienced starting the day after Thanksgiving; also, from mid-morning onward, we've had one snow squall after another pass through—little mini-blizzard fronts that could make you think winter might actually be on the way.

I'm glad to see both. We needed rain, after five months of serious drought. And while it's blustery and cold out there, I've not yet grown so old or coddled as to not be thrilled by the sight of the season's first snow. Falling snow always carries a hint of magic. Not that this snow is apt to do much more than give the leaves and grass an insignificant white frosting; when it's all over, we might end up with a quarter-inch down if we're lucky.

I've spent the morning running around to various office supply stores replacing a laser printer. The defunct one—an HP 1022 that's only four years old and has hardly been used, fell victim to the same lightening-induced power surge that ended up taking out my iMac, which I also recently replaced. The sad part is, the surge killed only the printer's ability to "talk" to the computer; you can push the TEST button and the printer prints just fine. If I knew how to replace the input module, I could probably fix this one for a few bucks. As it is, the bill comes to $244 and change. Technical ignorance doesn't come cheap. 

Adding to the situation, seeing as how I simply can't bring myself to toss the old one in the trash (waste not, want not) I'll have to store it somewhere until I can find someone who'd like to have a go at fixing it—and thus ease my conscience by happily giving it to them. Sort of like finding a home for a surplus kitten.

Ahh-h-h-h…the snow continues to pour down. "The old woman's shaking her featherbed," my mother used to say. I'm debating whether to make a 55-mile roundtrip run to a bookstore on the other side of town to look for Christmas presents; it will be dark long before I get back. Meanwhile, the ground is turning whiter than I expected. In fact, I believe I'll up my estimate regarding accumulation—let's say a possible half inch.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


From us riverbank denizens to you…

I hope your turkey turns out perfect, that the dressing isn't too dry or the gravy lumpy, and that the whole feast is enjoyed amid a spirit of love, laughter, and thankful celebration.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The latest weather report is rain starting soon after noon, turning into heavy rain—storm warnings have been issued—more rain throughout the night, and 100% chance of rain all day tomorrow. No doubt the river will muddy and rise, and any chance of a post-Thanksgiving-feast amble to walk-off a bit of the turkey and dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted mixed vegetables, fruit salad, breads, pumpkin pie, cookies, and so on and on and on, will be impossible. So will outdoor photography. 

But this morning's sunrise more than made up for a bit of rain. The top shot was the view looking east as Myladylove and I sat down to breakfast—though before eating, Moon and I made a quick detour outside for photos. The tree is the huge patriarch sycamore which I mentioned in the foggy morning post a few days ago. 

The second shot is from the exact opposite direction, looking west—with the pink sunrise light bathing the tops of the sycamores lining the bank opposite the cottage, reflecting down onto the nearly white rocks in the riffle, turning the water a sort of purple-rose, and overlaying everything else with a magenta cast. This intense color didn't lasted more than a minute or so after I stepped outside. Just long enough for a couple of quick snaps.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I've been working at my desk since about 8:30 a.m. Between today's stint and an even longer session Saturday, I'm glad to say everything got finished and fired off to the various editors. I also included a cheery missive outlining my plans—in lurid and succulent detail—for the 23-pound turkey now resting on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator come Thanksgiving. The idea was to have them drooling on their iPads and suffering from hunger pains as punishment for not giving me an earlier heads-up when they decided to shorten my deadlines. I covered side dishes as well as the main course. Plus desserts. Editors tend to live on junk food, are perpetually hungry, and drool like Rottweilers at the mere mention of anything edible.  

During one of today's few breaks, Moon the dog and I stepped outside for perhaps five minutes. I made one photo…which was of the afternoon sun shining through clusters of box elder seeds in a bankside tree about fifty feet from the cottage. 

Actually, what you're seeing is not the true seed but the paired samaras, or "keys," each a couple of inches long, with the half-inch seed located at the base where the samara connects to the raceme's stem. These little winged seed packages were spinning and flying every which way on today's gusty winds—planting themselves, no doubt, by the tens of thousands. Which still leaves hundreds of thousands of box elder keys for the squirrels to nibble.

You know, I'll bet several of those editors I emailed are about now to the point where they'd gladly munch box elder seeds. What a pity I couldn't email them a bag… 


Sunday, November 21, 2010


On the porch beneath a clabbered sky
I watch the day turn gold and slip away,
while gray squirrels rustle through leaves 
browning beneath the big hackberry, and 
chilled air carries a hint of woodsmoke.
Somewhere well upstream, geese are 
honking on the wing, sharp yelps 
marking their homeward passage 
through twilight's steady gathering.

Another unveiled autumn plays out
as we rest in mild circadian confusion,
aware—though circumspect 
in our affected silence—that November 
will run its course and winter waits ahead.

Doesn't winter always wait ahead?
Isn't the still season of ice and cold and 
keening wind always where years take us?
Is that why we make the time during
autumn's summation to gather 'round 
a familiar table, bow our heads, and
declare our thanks before having our feast?
Do we celebrate in gratitude or prudence,
mindful that our lot is good, yet uneasy 
we might have claimed too much credit
for the cornucopia we're about to enjoy?

The river is the color of old pewter in 
the waning light, divided into many 
small channels—a shredded ribbon, 
whispering as it finds it way between stones.
Such beauty. And there, in the quiet eventide, 
with a full moon rising to light the night, 
I recount my blessings before the holy stars—
and pray I might always keep a thankful heart.   


Saturday, November 20, 2010


It's a foggy morning here along the riverbank. The treeline along the opposite side of the channel between the cottage and the island is all but invisible. Sycamores and box elders rise like ghosts from the pale mist. Mallards thirty yards downstream, doubtless paddling about their favorite pool, quack unseen, their voices loud in the cloistered silence of the enveloping fog.

Moon the dog and I amble about—she busily snuffling through the piles of wet brown leaves, while I try to find things to photograph. In the treetops overhead, a squirrel pauses to balance on a twig and check us out.

Over by the board fence which marks the southern boundary of my streamside acre, the patriarch sycamore, a huge, towering specimen that is easily old enough to have been around when the Founding Fathers drew up the U.S. Constitution in 1787, loomed mysteriously, its topmost branches fading, spectral, almost vaporous, as if they were simply merging into and becoming one with the fog.

If I had more time, this would be a great morning to grab the camera gear, jump into the truck, and go driving around making fog shots. But…I have to work. All my editors suddenly decided yesterday that with Thanksgiving coming on Thursday, they'd like to have my columns in no later than Tuesday—in case they decide to take off from Wednesday through Sunday for the holiday. Seeing as how I have almost all of Tuesday filled with appointments, and things to do on Sunday, that leaves today and Monday to get a week's worth of work completed. 

Alas, I suppose I'd better get to work…

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


The past few days have been rather perilous to the local gray squirrel population. 

It began last week when I glanced out the window and saw a neighbor's cat proudly parading across the yard with a limp squirrel dangling from its jaws. Various cats are regular visitors here, attracted by birds coming to the feeders I have stationed about. For the most part, they're laughably unsuccessful. The birds keep a sharp lookout, plus there's not a lot of handy cover for concealment in the final critically-close range, and thus the long-distance rush-to-dinner usually ends with all birds making their escape well before the gonzo cats closes in. A bit of frustrated tail-swishing by the empty-clawed cat typically follows, which I find quite amusing.   

Not the squirrel catcher…just catching a catnap in the wheelbarrow.

 Yes, now and then a cat does manage to pull it off. Not often, however; I'd say the ratio is maybe fifty rushes to one caught bird. 

Squirrels seemed practically bulletproof—way too quick of reflexes, too speedy afoot, and too good at sudden direction changes. This is the very first time I've seen a cat catch a squirrel here at the cottage—and to be fair, I didn't actually witness the cat make the kill. For all I know, the squirrel could have met it's demise up on the road by bouncing off the bumper of a Buick.

Of course, the cat was just being a predator. Mouse, bird, squirrel…eats are eats. Everyone has to eat.

I hold the same attitude towards birds of prey. So when I looked out the same window a few days later and saw a redtail hawk land in the yard next to the river, maybe a dozen feet from the cottage door—a gray squirrel clutched in it talons, the only thing that upset me was that I'd left my camera in the pickup. I knew there wasn't a glimmer of hope that I'd be able to sneak out the back door and retrieve it, get back to the window, and make a photo without spooking the big hawk. 

The redtail, a juvenile, sat on its kill for nearly fifteen minutes. At first it held its wings out, not fully extended, but sort of wrapped around its prey as if hiding it from view. Later it folded its wings back into place. I didn't see any struggles coming from the squirrel, so possibly the hawk was just being cautious. Every so often the hawk looked down, though it never tried to reposition its grip on the squirrel. But most of the time the bird kept a constant watch all around in every direction, head swiveling this way and that, scrutinizing everything. 

A different redtail (I think) taken a few days later.
About midways through this fifteen minute sit, a gray squirrel—one of several which had hunkered in the tree from which the hawk had snatched the hapless squirrel, and under which the bird now sat holding the unfortunate victim—came down the trunk, shaking it bushy tail and squacking loudly at the hawk. The irate squirrel approached to within four or five feet of the hawk. All the redtail could do was glare at the squirrel and take what I'm sure was a good cussing. I thought that was a pretty fearless act on the part of the gray squirrel.

Finally, the redtail flew off, the squirrel hanging like a fuzzy banner below its legs. 

Incident three came this morning. Again, I witnessed it—the final milliseconds, anyway—through my deskside window. I was watching several squirrels chasing one another through the tops of the big sycamores along the river. Suddenly a blur caught my eye, which I realized was a falling squirrel. I didn't see the point from which the fall began, or know the reason it occurred…but I saw the final fifty-foot plunge, and heard the whap when the squirrel hit the ground—barely missing the upturned wheelbarrow—thirty feet from where I sat.

It isn't the first falling squirrel I've witnessed by a long shot. I've watched plenty of squirrels fall from power lines, treetops, off building, and bridges, and poles. Once I saw a squirrel attempt to jump from the top of a hundred-foot-tall cottonwood to a rocky cliff outcrop twenty feet away—only to miss completing the leap by several feet. What I've seldom seen, however, including the cottonwood-to-cliff attempt, was such a fall proving fatal. And this morning's plummet was no exception. After a minute or two of stunned immobility, the squirrel hopped over to the box elder near the front door, scampered up to a comfortable limb, and sat for awhile—considering, assessing, recovering? Whatever it is a squirrel does after such a plunge.

After the fall…

Life for a squirrel can truly be…squirrelly.